Should I paint my nails Mon bleu, Milk or Stiletto?
Bastille Day – or Fête Nationale, as they say here – commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison-fortress on July 14, 1789. It became a symbol of the uprising of a new nation, of the modern-day French Republic. It was a period of radical and social upheaval seeking to overthrow a society based on feudalism. The absolute monarchy that had reigned for centuries collapsed. The privileges of the monarchs, aristocrats and the Catholic Church evaporated and the principle of liberté, égalité, fraternité – liberty, equality, fraternity – was adopted. It is perhaps the most famous revolution in history and, of course, much more complicated than this. Living in Paris, I feel steeped in its rich history – I see it all around me. And its fashion.
If there’s one thing the French are good at – that is, besides food, wine, cheese, bread, chocolate, literature, art or architecture (that’s already quite an impressive list, non?) – it’s fashion. French couture revolutionized fashion and Parisians, style. They’re really good at that revolution thing, n’est-ce pas?
There’s a commotion in Paris every few months called Paris Fashion Week and every catwalk seems to bring forth some new mini revolution each season. We connect Paris style with haute couture like Chanel, Dior or Givenchy, among many other notable couture houses, and the words chic and elegant are liberally used when describing Parisian style.
Then there’s that stereotype. Bien sûr it is not true that French men grow mustaches, wear berets and carry a baguette under their arms. It’s a fun cliché, though, that even the French like to make fun of. You’ll even come across that Frenchman in cartoon form on many t-shirts and touristic items.
But how does the average Parisian dress in every day life? Not so different from you.
There seems to be a misconception that Parisians walk around in couture dresses and Louboutin heels during the day, as often depicted in films and TV shows. My girlfriends and I laughed at the Gossip Girls episodes that were shot in Paris in 2010. Seriously, no one dresses like they’re going to a cocktail party during the day.
Fair enough, the show is largely known for its incredible fashion so it’s natural that the wardrobe department would cater to people’s perception of Parisian street style rather than the reality of its, well, normality. Yes, Parisians dress pretty much like everyone else, they just know how to style it better and carry themselves with a different type of confidence, a certain je ne sais quoi.
So what do you wear when you’re visiting Paris? Or rather, what not to wear?
One thing that didn’t change from the decadent days of Marie-Antoinette is fashion. Bien sûr, Paris will always remain the fashion capital of the world. And I wish some tourists would take that into consideration when packing and make an effort.
I’ll be honest: there is a certain category of tourists who look as if they’re going hiking or, worse, beachcombing. Some look like they just got out of bed and slid some shoes or flip-flops on and bolted out the door. I understand it’s a city where there’s a lot of sightseeing to be done and a lot of walking involved, not to mention that you’re on holiday, but please – you’re not at the beach or in your backyard. So don’t stand out in something you would only wear at the seaside or in the privacy of your own home. I am by no means suggesting that you should get all dressed up, just don’t cater to the French stereotype of the typical North American tourist. You can look casual and chic with a t-shirt and shorts on – and stay comfortable – it’s merely a matter of the cut, shape and especially how you choose to wear them. A little effort goes a long way and, like it or or not, you’re sort of representing your country. And this is by no means about being superficial, but let’s face it – outer appearances do count. It’s the first impression people have of you. Superficiality isn’t a matter of clothing, by the way, but of personality.
Team Louis XVI? A fun tee I spotted in Paris.
Men are not exempt from those rules, and French guys know it.
My friends in the States often ask me if French guys are really the sexiest. Well, I reply, that’s a matter of personal taste and preference and I don’t believe that nationality determines one’s powers of seduction. What I do know is that they sure like to look good.
French men certainly know what they’re doing when it comes to personal style. They are effortlessly debonair and their looks, timeless. They tend to favor classic pieces with a modern take. They even manage to look dressy in jeans! The key is the cut. European cuts are much more flattering.
The stylistic trend of the metrosexual is quite normal in Paris. Even their take on the hipster look is chic – and Paris is full of hipsters.
So guys, dress it up a notch. It’s a sign of respect for your host country and bear in mind that a lot of monuments and churches do not allow you in if you’re dressed inappropriately.
Here’s what to pack:
- Casual button-down shirts and good-quality tees – perfect for day or evening.
- Light-weight pants – they’re more comfortable and cooler than jeans in hot weather and look both casual and stylish.
- Keep the flip-flops for the beach and sneakers for the gym – invest in good-quality walking shoes to survive long distances and withstand the shock of cobblestones.
- A fedora hat – I know, it screams hipster, but it looks much nicer than a baseball hat. Or choose a cap.
The female suitcase is usually overpacked to the point of bursting (every piece has a reason for being in that suitcase, even if we never wear it) and you’ve arrived in Paris and finally unpacked. Now, what to wear on Bastille Day? Think tricolore like the national flag and work around that.
Jean Paul Gaultier redefines his famous marinière as a mermaid dress
- Skinny jeans or a black or red pencil skirt.
- Jean Paul Gaultier’s ubiquitous marinière with its sailor stripes is a staple for French women. They come in the form of tanks or tees, loose-fitting or body-con, and can be both casual or formal depending on how you choose to wear it and what you pair it with.
- Repetto ballerina flats in black, red or electric blue or red espadrille wedges for more elevation! In 2011, one of my favorite shoe brands, Noe, designed a limited edition tricolor pump for Bastille Day!
- A little chic red handbag. I love my little Lancel bag. Or go for a clutch in red, white or blue!
- Red lip stain or lipstick. Dior makes the best lipsticks and glosses. Its Addict line is addictive!
- Red, white or blue nails? Take your pick from Kure Bazaar, my favourite nail polish brand as it is completely “4 free” – no synethetic camphor, toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phtalate – and 85% of its ingredients are natural.
- This season’s cat eyes sunglasses to complete the French kitty look. Meow!
- Oh, and before you walk out the door, put on some perfume, just a touch. Since it’s summer, opt for perfumes made especially for the season. Your regular perfume may provoke a reaction when exposed to sunlight and cause skin discoloration as fragrances tend to intensify in the heat. Summer fragrances generally have a lighter citrus or floral scent. I love O de Lancôme and Youth-Dew by Estée Lauder.
And don’t forget to indulge in a snack on Bastille Day. Try Fauchon’s tricolor éclair.
Voilà, you’re pumped up with energy and ready to roam the city like a true parisienne or watch the fireworks exploding above the Tour Eiffel. Quite a view to a kill!